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Reflections from Nairobi

   

By Werner and Adelia Neufeld Wiens

Werner and Adelia Neufeld Wiens and their children (Caleb and Ellen) left their home and friends in Winnipeg to teach at Rosslyn Academy (a school serving the children of missionaries, diplomats, and internationals) in Nairobi, Kenya. On this first anniversary of their African experience, they offer the following reflections, excerpted from a recent newsletter. Their connection to Mennonites in Canada is facilitated by Mennonite Church Canada Witness.

 
Left - right: Werner, Ellen, Caleb, and Adelia Neufeld Wiens at the Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi, Kenya.
   

Nairobi, Kenya.—On Friday of last week we completed our first year of classroom teaching at Rosslyn Academy.

It was a good year, even though we encountered our fair share of difficult times as well. There are always two ways of looking at the tough times. One is to see them as burdens that need to be bypassed or overcome. The other is to view them as opportunities for growth. We have tried hard to come at them from the second perspective, and at times have been able to succeed.

As we move into the summer holiday mode, we are realizing that we need to think through some of the adjustments and issues that we've been faced with this year.

The suite (on the second floor of the Administration Building on campus) where we live is truly a gift. Being in the centre of the campus has also allowed us to get into the community of parents in ways we might not have been able to do living a bit further away. We can always tell when someone stops by on campus; the opportunities for chatting have been great. It has helped us feel at home very quickly.

We are so fortunate to have access to the internet and email. We read of other missionaries in Africa who only have access once every two weeks or so, and even then they may have to drive an hour or more to where it is. Email has changed how distant we feel from home. Letters are read them time and time again.

To work in the areas where God has provided us with gifts is not something to take for granted. When exploring places of service, the question was always, "Where could we go where they would be able to use both of us in ways that would allow us to feel as though we were able to contribute?" Adelia feared, in some ways, the move from a Post Secondary environment to High School. The students are responding to her in ways that are very gratifying. For Werner it was really scary to move from an established teaching position and start over, but he has thrived in his classroom, and has wonderful relationships with his students. Finding a place where we were put into jobs that used our areas of strength must be a gift from God. That we could be placed in a setting like this is something to be thankful for.

The adjustment for Caleb and Ellen has not always been easy. Ellen has a few friends that live close to campus, and there is also another girl her age living on campus. Socially, both of them have had a fairly easy time. Academically, it has been a bit more of an adjustment to a system where the student must take responsibility for absorbing the material. There aren't the same open lines of communication with teachers we are accustomed to.

While their mentoring relationships, Tuesday evening floor hockey, youth group, girl's club, children's choir, and all the friendships have not been replaced in Nairobi, we hope that other experiences will outweigh that which was left behind. We pray that our children will be strengthened in their resolve to follow God with all of their lives. Caleb has probably become a stronger pacifist here since September 11 than may have happened in Winnipeg. Here he rubs shoulders constantly with people of a radically different philosophical bent. Pacifism isn't the norm here.

Are we missionaries? That question has been on our minds often. Now that we're at the end of the school year, it's a good opportunity to reflect on this question. When we first arrived, we didn't really know how we would minister in this setting, with so many students whose parents have been in the "mission field" for years.

Our experience has convinced us again that we are all missionaries, wherever we are placed. Readers of this article are missionaries. And yes, we are. But we were missionaries before we came here. That said, let us offer a few examples of where we believe we're ministering. For Adelia as high school chaplain and religion instructor, and Werner as Grade 8 religion teacher we are challenged in our ministry:

Non-Christian students from other religions

Rosslyn has a significant number of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh students. In the classroom and in the chapels, we have worked to get to know and love these kids. This has been a wonderful privilege, and it is our hope that that we gently model to them the love and hope that is ours in Christ. It has been fascinating to have Muslim and Hindu students in eighth grade Christian Ethics, tenth grade New Testament Survey as well as in World Religions (geared for eleventh and twelveth grades). Many of them are very smart and keen. They are also very interested in Christianity, and the challenge of making it appeal to their hearts is very real.

Missionary kids sick and tired of Christianity

Shocked? Don't be. Some students are really "on fire" for God (see Christ-convicted students below), but a good many are cynical and cool to Christianity. Again, it seems to us that developing a relationship with these students, loving them for who they are, and surprising them in worship settings and in the classroom with new and creative ways of talking about the Gospel message - these are ways in which we minister here.

Christ- convicted and students

This is a challenge too! Some of these kids feel guilty that they're not doing enough to make this school "on fire" for God. Others are upset with students who treat their faith with such casualness. And still others look to us to somehow change the climate here! Embracing and empowering these students is an complex challenge. We love exploring ideas for ministry with them.

Sickness

In February we had a meningitis outbreak here, and on May 14 one of those students (age 16, who had seemingly recovered), was evacuated to Boston with excruciating headaches caused by intracranial pressure. He continues to mystify doctors. On the same day that David was evacuated, we received news that a ninth grade girl was in intensive care with a serious asthma attack. She remained in ICU for seven days, and in hospital for another five. Both of these situations allowed Adelia the opportunity to really be a pastor - hospital and home visits, prayers with the sick and the families, pastoral care for their peers here, information sharing to staff and students. David, who remains sick, continues to need prayers for healing.

Parents and teachers

Though our primary task has been to work with the students at Rosslyn, it is inevitable that we get involved in the lives of parents of students as well as with other teachers. A school setting can sometimes emphasize the distance between teachers and parents; we have felt a strong impulse to work towards closing that gap.

Students of persecuted parents

As news about conflicts between Pakistan and India hits us, we are aware that we have students here who are directly affected by this situation. Adelia had a girl in her World Religions class from Pakistan - a Christian girl whose father works there with the persecuted church. This young woman has a heart for the Muslim and Hindu population there, but it is far too dangerous for her family to live in Pakistan with her dad. In Ellen's class, one of the kids' father was in the church that was bombed in Pakistan a couple of months ago. He was not injured, but is now a witness to the incident. Many of our students come from war-affected regions and are passionate about their intent to one day change the plight of Congo, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burundi, and so on. These students humble us, and need the support of the wider church.

Ever-present poverty

Poverty is very prevalent in Nairobi. A city that boasts a population of close to three million has over 2/3 of the population living in slums. Driving to church this morning, we were again confronted with street children who live in the Westlands roundabout. They sniff solvents to deaden the hunger pains and to gain the needed courage to beg people for money. Many of these kids aren't even in their teens yet, but they have already lost both parents due to AIDS or other causes. Their own life expectancy is but a few years.

Most others live in the slums. One of the big slums in Nairobi has 10,000 people per toilet. The main form of sewage disposal is a grocery bag. They refer to them as flying toilets.

With poverty comes crime. Kenya is now classified as the fourth most corrupt country in the world. Less than 50% of the children have access to schooling. How can this classification improve when there is nothing in place to bring about change? It is not unusual to hear about home invasions and car jackings. Some incidents come with high levels of violence. We do not venture out often after dark. This took awhile to get used to, but we already realize that when we go back, we will find it very strange to develop a social life that again involves evening outings.

Sometimes, the days and weeks fly so quickly that we don't have time to reflect on the challenges of being here. Thank you for being willing to support us in this journey, and for your interest.

This summer we will welcome eighteen new teachers into the Rosslyn community. That should be fun! We want to explore more of Nairobi and the environs. Adelia is anticipating attending a conference of Mennonite women theologians from East Africa in Tanzania in early July (sponsored by Mennonite World Conference).

June 3 marks our 24th wedding anniversary. When we look back, we are in awe of the many varied experiences that we have been able to share with each other. We have much to be thankful for.

Blessings to you all as you move into summer. May it be a time of renewal and peace.

Love from,
Werner, Adelia, Caleb, and Ellen.